At least he kept in contact with his child, unlike Dan who’d abandoned both Grace and their daughters.

“Susan—my wife—fell in love with a colleague from work,” Cliff said. His hand tightened around the mug and she noticed a spasming muscle in his jaw.

“According to what she said at the time, she’d never been happy.”

“Is she now?”

“I wouldn’t know. After the divorce I retired and moved to Olalla,” he said, mentioning a local community ten miles south of Cedar Cove.

“The locals call it Ou-la-la,” Grace told him.

“I can understand why. It’s beautiful there. I have forty acres and raise quarter horses.”

“It sounds lovely.”

“It is, except for one thing.” His eyes locked with hers. “I’m lonely.”

That was something Grace understood far too well. Her marriage had never been completely happy, but over the years Grace and Dan had grown content with each other. There was a lot to be said for contentedness—conversation over dinner, a night out at the movies, a repertoire of shared experiences. Dan had usually been there to greet her when she walked in the door after work. Now there was only Buttercup.

“I’m looking for a friend,” Cliff told her. “Someone who’d be willing to attend a concert with me every now and then, that’s all.”

The idea appealed to Grace, too. “That would be nice.”

“I was hoping you’d think so.” His tone was gentle and encouraging.

“But,” she hurried to add, “only after the divorce is final.”

“All right,” Cliff said.

“One more thing.” She met his eyes again. “I’ll call you next time. Agreed?”

He hesitated. “Agreed, but does that mean you don’t want me going into the library?”

“You’re always welcome,” she told him. “Just as long as it’s on library business.”

“Sure.” He reached for his mug and raised it to his lips, but not before Grace saw a smile lift the edges of his mouth.

She had the sneaking suspicion that he was about to become a frequent library patron.

Things had been strained between Rosie and Zach ever since the night of Eddie’s open house at school. Rosie blamed her husband for that. Zach simply didn’t appreciate how much she did. He seemed to think she sat around the house and watched soap operas all day while he was at the office. He didn’t understand how complicated her life was. She was so busy she sometimes left the house before he did and didn’t return until late in the evening. Now Zach expected her to cook a four-course dinner on top of everything else, she thought angrily.

She’d asked him to attend Eddie’s school function and he’d been annoyed with her for days afterward. Eddie was Zach’s son, too, and meeting his teacher was a small thing. Yet Zach had complained the entire evening. First about ordering pizza for dinner, then about the green peppers, and he hadn’t wanted to wear his suit to the school meeting, and…Later that night, despite her best efforts, their discontent with each other had escalated into a full-blown argument.

They hadn’t resolved it in the days that followed, either.

After two weeks of this nonsense, one of them had to make a conciliatory gesture. Despite the fact that she’d been up past midnight reading over the committee report for the PTA planning meeting scheduled that evening, Rosie rose at the crack of dawn and fried bacon and eggs. She used to take the time to cook a real breakfast for her family. She hoped Zach would realize she was trying and that would appease him.

Rosie broke the eggs into the pan once she heard Allison stir. The kids were on different schedules now that Allison was in high school, which made coordinated meals more difficult. But if it was important to her husband that she spend half the morning in front of a stove, she’d do it in order to maintain the peace.

“I have eggs cooking for you,” she told her daughter when Allison stepped into the kitchen.

“I hate eggs,” Allison said, slamming her backpack onto the table.

“Since when?”

Her daughter eyed her as if Rosie were mentally lacking. “Since forever.”

“I forgot.” Vaguely Rosie could recall long-ago battles over breakfast. “What about some bacon then?”

“Yuck.” Her daughter opened the refrigerator and pulled out a soda.

Rosie was appalled. “You can’t have that!”

“Why not?” Allison looked at her with disdain. “I have a pop every morning. Why can’t I now?”

“Fine, if that’s what you want.” It wasn’t worth a fight. All the books Rosie had read about raising teenagers recommended carefully choosing your battles. Giving in on the soda seemed minor compared to not letting Allison pierce her nose.

Rosie turned off the burner and slid the fried eggs onto a couple of plates, together with the fast-cooling bacon. Walking down the hallway she knocked and opened Eddie’s bedroom door. His room was an environmental disaster area, and as much as possible, she averted her eyes. Her son was sprawled across his bed, comforter on the floor.

“Are you interested in breakfast?” she asked.

Eddie lifted his head and blinked at her. “Mom?”

“Do you want breakfast?” she repeated.

He sat up, suddenly wide-awake. “Yeah,” he said with enthusiasm.

This was more like it.

“The chocolate ones are my favorite.”

“Chocolate what?”


“I fried you bacon and eggs.”

Eddie wrinkled his nose as if she’d suggested he dine on slugs. “No, thanks.” He flopped back on his pillow and reached for the comforter on the floor.

All right, so much for that. Venturing toward the master bedroom, she found Zach just as he was coming out of the walk-in closet, dressed in his suit and tie.

“I cooked breakfast,” she said, a bit stiffly.

He nodded as though he approved.

“Are you ready to eat?”

“I can’t now,” he said, looking down at his watch. “I’ve got an early-morning appointment.”

That was just great, dammit! No one appreciated her efforts or the fact that she was functioning on less than five hours’ sleep. Whirling around, Rosie returned to the kitchen, dumped the congealed bacon and egg in the garbage and forcefully opened the dishwasher. She shoved in the plates.

Zach entered the kitchen. “I’m leaving now.”

“Have a good day,” she muttered under her breath.

“You, too.”

Her husband stopped in front of the door leading to the garage. “Would you like to meet for lunch this afternoon?”

So Zach did realize what she was doing. Now he was making an overture, too. “I think that’s a lovely idea.” She offered him a grateful smile and he smiled back.


Rosie nodded and he walked over to her and kissed her cheek.

“Dad,” Allison called, racing into the kitchen. “Can I get a ride with you?”

“Only if you hurry.”

“I’ll just be a minute.”

“Meet you at the car.”

Allison dashed toward her bedroom and returned two seconds later with her sweater, grabbing her backpack from the table as she went.

“Do you have your lunch money?” Rosie asked.

“Duh? Of course I do.” Allison kissed her cheek in the same fashion Zach had and was out the door.

No sooner had they left than Eddie appeared in the kitchen doorway. “Is my Pop-Tart up yet?”

“Almost,” she muttered and searched the cupboards until she located a box of her son’s favorite breakfast food.

An hour later, Eddie left to catch the school bus and Rosie straightened up the kitchen, turning on the dishwasher. Still in her ratty, ten-year-old housecoat, she went to the bedroom and pulled open the dresser drawer to take out fresh underwear.

It wasn’t until she was in the shower that she remembered she had to be at the school by noon as a lunch volunteer for Eddie’s class. She groaned and raised her face to the water. She’d be away tonight, too. As it was, Zach didn’t approve of her chairing this PTA committee. She’d taken the position a year earlier and had promised to serve until the end of term and no longer. But last June not a single parent had stepped forward to volunteer. Rosie had no choice but to continue as chair.

She dressed and was about to call Zach’s office when the phone rang. A half hour later, she was rushing out the door, about to ward off an emergency concerning the new choir robes at church. Somehow their order had gotten switched with that of another church, somewhere in Florida. It was imperative that the correct robes show up before the end of the month. At the church, she painstakingly repackaged the robes, made half a dozen phone calls and took the boxes to the post office to return to the company. Not until eleven-thirty did she realize she still hadn’t called Zach. Taking out her cell phone, she punched in the number to her husband’s office.

“Smith, Cox and Jefferson,” came the pleasant—and unfamiliar—female voice.

Rose eased to a stop at a red light. “This is Rosie Cox. Could I speak to my husband, please?”

“Hello, Mrs. Cox, this is Janice Lamond. I don’t believe we’ve met, have we?”

“No, we haven’t,” she said. The light changed to green and she sped forward.

“I’m sorry, but Mr. Cox left the office. I understand he was meeting you?”

They hadn’t agreed to meet anywhere, at least not that she remembered. Where the hell would Zach go? Think, think, she ordered herself.

“Did he bring his cell phone?”

“I’m sorry, he didn’t. Mr. Cox said he didn’t want to take any calls.”

Rosie groaned. “Did he tell you where he was headed?”

The woman hesitated. “I believe he mentioned D.D.’s on the Cove.”

Of course. It was her favorite and Zach always took her there for her birthday.

“Are you going to be late?” Janice asked. “I could phone the restaurant and let him know, if you’d like.”

“I can’t make lunch at all,” Rosie muttered, truly regretful. Zach would never forgive her. Especially when he learned she had to cancel because she was volunteering yet again.

“Is there anything I can do?” Zach had never mentioned how helpful this new employee was. Rosie liked her already. She pulled into the school parking lot and cut the engine.

“You wouldn’t mind phoning him for me?”

“It would be my pleasure.”

“Thank you so much.”

“Would you like me to tell him where you can be reached?”

“No,” she said quickly, not eager to have Zach call her in the midst of a volunteer activity. “Tell him I’ll explain everything once I’m home.”

“I’ll see to it immediately,” Janice said.

Rosie appreciated that the firm’s new assistant was so friendly and accommodating.

If Zach was upset with her for skipping out on lunch, he didn’t give any sign of it when he walked into the house that evening. Rosie was thawing hamburger in the microwave for spaghetti, Eddie’s favorite dinner, when her husband came in. As usual, she was in a hurry to get out the door.